RATHER late, South-West leaders are finally coming to the realization that the fire of banditry and terrorism consuming the North is fast spreading down South. Recent unprecedented vicious attacks on the people of the zone by bloodthirsty marauders are some of the obvious indicators. Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, also raised the alarm that insurgents are moving and taking refuge in the South-West’s forests. The six governors in the zone must recognize that the threat is real, join forces and take stronger measures to secure the lives and property of their people.
Before Akeredolu’s alarm, a Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, had described the June 5, 2022 terror attack on worshippers of St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, in Ondo State, which left over 40 dead and scores injured, as an unmistakable message. He said the attack was “not an accident and it passed a message to the rest of us.” It is a stark warning that the region is not safe.
Now is the time to act. Beginning with the strict enforcement of the anti-open livestock grazing ban in existence in the zone, there should be an immediate ban on the use of commercial motorcycles as a means of transportation in the cities. The six state governors must swiftly act and combat the influx of undesirable persons into the region.
Terrorists had kidnapped one Idowu Ajayi on the highway between Ijesa-Isu and Ikole in Ekiti State. According to the victim, his kidnappers, who spoke in Fulfulde, threatened large-scale attacks on Yorubaland. Ajayi said, “They were Fulani men from Nigeria, Niger, and Mali, according to them…One of them told me that I was a ‘useless Yoruba’…He said that by the time they were through with us (Yoruba people), we would have learnt our lesson. He told me that they were using all the ransom they got to buy ammunition.” If his testimony is doubted, weightier voices have sounded the same alert.
The leader of the O’odua Peoples Congress, Gani Adams, has repeatedly made similar assertions, citing intelligence showing that terrorists are infiltrating the South-West in very large numbers under the pretext of cattle grazing and commercial motorcycling. He identified three terrorist groups operating from Ibarapa in the Oke Ogun area of Oyo State, the Yewa area of Ogun State, and other parts of the geopolitical zone.
The Chairman of the Oyo State wing of the Western Security Network, Operation Amotekun, Kunle Togun, backed Adams’ claim. The former military intelligence chief said, “I have been saying that our land has been infiltrated. These so-called Fulani herdsmen are not herdsmen but foreign terrorists. There will soon be a problem in the South-West. They have their foot-soldiers among those okada riders, pepper sellers who ply their trade in wheelbarrows. They have mastered the topography in the South-West communities. This is very critical.”
Consistently, many other kidnap victims in the region have identified their captors as ethnic Fulani, while scores of local farmers have been hacked to death on their farms by terrorists masquerading as herders. The aggressors also rape and abduct them for ransom.
According to the President-General, Agbekoya Farmers Association, Kamorudeen Okikiola, herdsmen have killed over 4,000 farmers in South-West in the past six years, including a United States-returnee, Fatai Aborode, who was hacked to death on his farm in Igangan, in the Ibarapa area, Oyo State, in December 2020, igniting violent clashes between the Fulani settlers and the host community.
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Beyond the establishment of Amotekun in 2020, the regional security outfit must be well-funded, and its operatives properly equipped. Their single-bolt action rifles are no match for the automatic rifles, machine guns, explosives and grenade launchers of the terrorists and herdsmen who have already rendered large tracts of the North ungovernable. The governors must therefore ensure that Amotekun is immediately armed with sophisticated weapons whatever it takes.
The governors should ban the use of commercial motorcycles in the urban areas immediately and gradually phase them out completely in the hinterland. Their ubiquity is evidence of poverty and underdevelopment, demonstrating the failure of the states to promote an effective public transportation system in 23 years of civilian rule. Governors should accord this a top priority and work with the private sector to deliver an effective intermodal system that would render okada irrelevant.
They should rigorously enforce the anti-open grazing laws they unanimously adopted with their 11 other Southern governors.
They must neutralise the two major ways used by blood-thirsty invaders to encircle the South-West – commercial motorcycle operation and open grazing.
They should also devise creative ways to discourage undesirables, including aliens, from pouring into the zone to cause havoc. They should enforce anti-begging laws, eradicate illegal settlements where the uncharted attackers often operate from. Effective town planning should be in place to discourage unplanned slum settlements. Abattoirs should be sanitised, well-organised and healthy; mushroom, unregulated ones should shut down.
Drones should be deployed to monitor the ungoverned forests and settlements to identify terrorists’ hideouts. The states should erect formidable local intelligence networks, using trained personnel and locals. Whistleblowers, community development associations, estate security systems should be incorporated into the intelligence network to detect criminals and preempt attacks.
True, freedom of movement and residence is sacrosanct, as the 1999 Constitution states that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to reside in any part of the country. South-West governors should however by mutual consent with other states and working with their social welfare agencies, humanely round up beggars and vagrants, transport them back safely to their home states and hand them over to those states’ social welfare officials for care and rehabilitation.
The threat is real and South-West governors and leaders should not sacrifice the people’s safety in pursuit of personal national political ambition. It is a betrayal of collective trust invested in them to compromise the safety of their people to pander to outside interests. Through all lawful means, the people should demand effective governance and protection of lives and property from their governors and legislators.
L-R: Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; his counterparts in Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu; Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi; Oyo State, Seyi Makinde; and Osun State, Adegboyega Oyetola, during the South-West Governors Forum meeting in Abuja… on Friday. Photo: Osun State Government.